Warren Heilbronner's family escaped Nazi Germany after Kristallnacht.

RICHMOND — One November 1938 night, the Gestapo came for Warren Heilbronner’s grandfather.

The next day, they came for his father.

They were among thousands of Jewish people in Germany rounded up by Nazis as part of Kristallnacht — also known as the “Night of Broken Glass” — a prelude of the Holocaust to come.

His grandfather owned a plant in Stuttgart that manufactured men’s undergarments, and his father served as general manager. Both were taken to a concentration camp in Dachau, before such camps became “killing camps,” said Heilbronner, who was 6 at the time.

In trying to calm her children, Heilbronner’s mother told him and his brother their father had gone away for a time. She wanted her children to have a normal time, but little by little, they learned of what happened, Heilbronner said.

“One by one, playmates all of a sudden were gone,” Heilbronner said. “They were trying to get out of the country as well.”

Not long after, the Heilbronners, too, managed to flee Germany — a story in itself of bureaucracy, money and blackmail — survivors of the Holocaust.

His family’s survival story — along with those of 10 other Rochester area families — is included in the book, “Perilous Journeys,” which can be found at the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester website at www.jewishrochester.org.

Heilbronner never grows tired of telling the story — and he speaks of it often. He is invited regularly into schools, colleges and churches to talk of his and his family’s experiences during the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. He also will be speaking to members of Faith Bible Church in Honeoye on Sunday night. 

“It’s my obligation to tell the story, for those who did not survive,” Heilbronner said. “If nobody speaks for them, their story is lost. Six million stories are lost.”

Holocaust survivors do have stories to tell, which are especially pertinent in today’s political world, said John Karle, pastor at Faith Bible Church.

And as with the World War II soldiers of the same era, there will come a day when survivors will not be here to tell these stories themselves.

“Here, you have a chance to hear somebody firsthand,” Karle said. “I think it’s a real honor we can talk to a Holocaust survivor.”

The Heilbronners left Stuttgart in March 1939, settling in Perry, Wyoming County. He and his wife had three boys. Today, Heilbronner, 84, is an attorney handling trusts and estates with Boylan Code in Rochester.

“Look, our family — we were the lucky ones,” Heilbronner said. “We got out.”

At the end of “Perilous Journeys,” Heilbronner said his family’s trauma was minimal compared to what others suffered.

Referring to the words of another survivor, the true weapons of mass destruction are bigotry, intolerance and hate, Heilbronner said — and the weapon to combat them is vigilance.

“You don’t stand by and let it happen. When you see something wrong, you have to speak up,” Heilbronner said. “This is the message I try to bring when I speak.” 


If you go

WHAT "Standing with Israel," a talk by Holocaust survivor Warren Heilbronner

WHEN 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29

WHERE Faith Bible Church, 9041 Route 20A, Honeoye